Growing Diversity

Currently, not all the colleges require a diversity GE. Eleanor Roosevelt College currently has no such requirement, the closest class Sixth College mandates is “social context” and Revelle College requires something called American cultures.

But effective Fall 2011 for incoming freshmen and Fall 2013 for incoming transfers, new students in every college must take a course relating to diversity from a list of approved classes. For some, this will overlap with existing cultural diversity requirements, such as Marshall College’s Dimensions of Culture GE.

Students can expect a wide range of choices when it comes to satisfying the requirement. The approved list already includes courses such as HILD 7A and 7C (Race and Ethnicity in the United States), LTAF 27 (African-American Literature) and LTEN 28 (Introduction to Asian-American Literature).

The extra requirement may, at best, represent a collective step away from the kind of hurtful ignorance on full display during Winter Quarter 2010’s “Compton Cookout.” At worst — and here there is real danger — it may represent a mere bullet point on the university’s PR campaign against “hate and bias,” or another proud talking point for campus tour guides.

It’s still early to make definitive judgments on how the administration plans to handle the new requirement, though the evidence isn’t promising. Academic Senate Chair Frank Powell said the approved courses will likely overlap with existing college requirements — a point that will doubtless please incoming freshmen, many of whom can already expect to spend fully half their time at UCSD fulfilling general requirements.

But scurrying a new generation of students past existing requirements under the guise of increased awareness is no answer to the problem. If courses like the Dimensions of Culture sequence are truly adequate preventative measures against ignorance or hate, then one can’t help but wonder why their impact was so absent on the students who committed unabashed acts of ignorance last year.

The nature of the particular courses is also a concern. Realistically, no general education requirement can correct the backward thinking of every student who passes through a lecture hall. The best the university can do is to ensure that this added requirement is distinct from those that failed to thwart the racism on display last year, and that the courses required actually engage students in issues of race relations and white privilege.

That stipulation may sound superfluous, but not every supposed diversity requirement asks students to tackle related issues. A Muir College student, for instance, may fulfill her diversity requirement with an American Sign Language course — a useful skill, to be sure, but hardly relevant to the events from last winter.

And classes such as Introduction to African-American Literature, while useful for their relaying of the grave historical challenges that the black community has faced, often engender feelings of detachment in the students who need the requirement most. These are students who disavow themselves of all connection to their ancestors’ wrongs, and who likely resent the perceived blame they receive for them — a resentment that can fuel both ignorance and outward acts of hatred.

So though the courses listed may satisfy the requirement on paper, it’s important to remember the root of this proposal: irrefutable evidence that our campus is not nearly welcoming enough to minority students. Accordingly, administrators should tailor the requirement specifically to issues of race relations.

The most effective use of the GE would be to mandate courses that fall under the umbrella of ethnic studies — a curriculum that focuses on studying ethnic minorities in the U.S., ethnic relations and the construction of racial identities. This area of study is mostly unconnected to current college requirements, and would likely have a greater impact on those students who can’t see what all the fuss is about in the first place.

Some, of course, will be unmoved by the addition to their transcripts. But employed properly, the most powerful weapon the university has in its arsenal against acts of racism is not a ceaseless stream of good PR. It’s education.